Mental Floss

The Unexpectedly Delightful Origins of 15 Common Words

By Editorial Staff
istock / istock

Even some of the most mundane words can have delightful back stories.

1. School

From Greek skhola, which meant leisure or spare time. What a luxury it was to just hang around and learn!

2. Companion

From Latin com+panis, “together+bread.” A companion is someone you share bread with.

3. Window

From Old Norse vindauga for “wind eye.” It won out over other old words meaning “eye hole” and “eye door.”

4. Squirrel

From the Greek skia oura, or “shade tail.” The big, fluffy tail of a squirrel makes a nice parasol.

5. Muscle

From Latin musculus for “little mouse.” A rippling muscle can sometimes look like a little mouse running around under the skin.

6. Eavesdrop

From the Old English term for the line around a house where rain would drip down from the roof. It came to represent the activity of standing within the eavesdrop in order to spy on what the neighbors were up to.

7. Wheedle

From the German wedeln for tail wagging. Dogs know that the best way to wheedle something out of you is to adorably wag that tail.

8. Dandelion

From French dent de lion, “tooth of the lion,” for the jagged outline of the flower petals.

9. Curfew

From French couvre feu for “cover fire.” In medieval Europe there were fire safety regulations under which a bell would ring in the evening when it was time to extinguish fires and go to sleep.

10. Astronaut

Formed from the Greek roots for star (astro-) and sailor (nautes). An astronaut sails among the stars.

11. Flair

From Latin flagrare, an altered form of fragare, “to smell” (related to “fragrant”). A flair for something is a bit of extra perceptiveness, an ability to catch the scent.

12. Howdy

A friendly shortening of the more formal “how do ye?” or “how do you do?”

13. Cushy

From the Hindi khush for pleasant or happy.

14. Explain

From the Latin explanare for “smooth out, flatten, or make planar.” A good explanation will make the rough, pointy bits easier to understand.

15. Daisy

From Old English daeges eage, meaning “day’s eye.” A daisy opens with the day and closes at night.